Hy­brid route to heaven

It could be the ul­ti­mate Porsche and yet it’s a joy to drive, fast or slow

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@carsguide.com.au

MARK Web­ber is a ma­gi­cian in a Porsche 918. Me? I’m rub­bish. When Web­ber took me for hot laps at Al­bert Park dur­ing the Aus­tralian Grand Prix he dug deep into the in­cred­i­ble power, grip and tech­nol­ogy of the $1.5 mil­lion Porsche hy­brid hero, crank­ing up to 260km/h on the pit straight and hus­tling it through the cor­ners at speeds to un­set­tle a V8Su­per­car driver.

I will never for­get the first up­per­cut of 650kW as we came out of the Al­bert Park pit­lane, or the mo­ment when we went off course at the high-speed flip‒flop when Web­ber mis­judged his brak­ing be­cause he felt as if he was back in his Red Bull F1 car. I thought I was head­ing for hos­pi­tal.

When I get to Phillip Is­land and slide from the pas­sen­ger seat to the ac­tion sta­tion, things are very dif­fer­ent.

This is the same car — bru­tally fast in a way that’s hard to ex­plain be­yond a 0-100km/h time of 2.6 sec­onds and a top speed of 345km/h — but I can’t be­lieve how easy it is to drive.

It makes an ev­ery­day driver look like a su­per­star. I find it easy to romp to 250km/h on the pit straight and cor­ner at speeds

that make a Porsche 911 GT3 look pedes­trian. I have the wheel and ped­als but it’s the 918 that has the con­trol.

It’s an ab­so­lutely bril­liant car that cur­rently sits at the top of world mo­tor­ing along­side the McLaren F1 and Fer­rari LaFer­rari. All are hy­brids but, in­stead of us­ing their elec­tric mo­tors to green the world, they are fit­ted to give the ef­fect of a bat­tery-boosted su­per­charger.

In the case of the 918, three elec­tric mo­tors in­te­grate seam­lessly into an all-wheel drive pack­age. The seven-speed PDK manu-matic gear­box with pad­dle-shifters is among the most in­tu­itive I’ve struck in any car. It is far bet­ter at red-line up­shifts when the petrol V8 spins to 9000 revs and makes bril­liant down­shifts for hot laps.

Yet the 918 will also run for 31km purely on elec­tric power while clock­ing 6.2 sec­onds for the 0-100km/h sprint and top­ping out at 150km/h.

There is a lot to like about the ul­ti­mate Porsche — and some things to love — but it’s not all good news.

The car is only built in left‒hand drive and then there’s the seven-fig­ure price tag. It’s also noisy, pretty cramped in the cabin and takes some learn­ing with all the elec­tronic com­pli­ca­tions.

I’ve only got three driv­ing laps at Phillip Is­land but Porsche is pre­par­ing me well with track time in both a 911 Turbo and GT3 in ad­vance of the ul­ti­mate roller-coaster ride. Both cars feel lovely and fast, with the GT3 a fair bit sharper and av­er­ag­ing bet­ter than 150km/h around the is­land cir­cuit.

But the 918 Spy­der is some­thing else again, which is why Matthias Hoff­suem­mer — chief driv­ing in­struc­tor on the car, with more than 40,000km at the wheel — has taken over from Web­ber as the lead driver. He has flown from Ger­many to demon­strate the car as well as ride shot­gun to en­sure there are no mishaps.

He starts gen­tly, show­ing how the car per­forms in full elec­tric mode, be­fore un­cork­ing some of the per­for­mance.

Con­jure up any list of su­per­cars. None of them is as whack-me-back as the 918. Or as im­pres­sive un­der brakes. Or ca­pa­ble of build­ing such in­cred­i­bly high speeds in such a short time and dis­tance. The 918 is other-worldly, so fast and yet so easy to drive.

To keep me in check on the hot laps, Porsche has pro­vided a pace car — a Car­rera Cup racer no less, pi­loted by cham­pion driver Craig Baird.

It’s quickly clear that the 918 is faster than the Cup car in lots of con­di­tions, as I’m able to out­brake Baird and pull along­side as we ac­cel­er­ate down the straight. And he’s in a full race car.

To be hon­est, I’m strug­gling to keep pace with the 918. It’s so darned fast that I’m wrung out af­ter three laps, try­ing to keep my eyes down the road and my re­flexes tuned to the speed. Then I slow, and re­alise the 918 can also go slow.

It’s not nearly as much fun but as my heart rate slows I can ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity of the cabin, the bril­liant di­als, the com­fort of the race-style seat and the in­cred­i­ble out­ward vi­sion ... not to for­get the lift‒out car­bon-fi­bre roof pan­els, the ac­tive aero­dy­nam­ics with a gi­ant rear wing and the top-exit ex­haust pipes.

In a con­clud­ing hot lap along­side Hoff­suem­mer, the car feels quicker than it did with Web­ber — be­cause I can re­lax and watch in­stead of hang­ing on and scream­ing in­side.

He un­corks a lap in 1 minute 38.02 sec­onds.

For clar­ity, the 918 is on road tyres and the track is hot, and the V8 Su­per­car lap record be­longs to six-time cham­pion Jamie Whin­cup at 1:32.02.

The 918 Spy­der is a 21stcen­tury speed ma­chine, a techno-marvel that takes Porsche road cars to a new level.

Ma­gi­cian: Mark Web­ber at the wheel of the 918 Spy­der

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